before I go any further, this is just one approach to painting the UNSC ships for Halo that I just personally prefer and shouldn’t be construed as being definitive as the end result is very much down to taste. I used a combination of airbrush base colours, brush highlights and glazes for the shading, but the key to this method isn’t the airbrush, that’s purely a facilitator to help simplify and speed up the process, it’s the use of glazes. With thirty odd Paris Class to get through I don’t want to be spending too long base painting. That being said, the airbrush does help lay down an even smooth coat which is a big help when you get to the latter shading stage.
To dry brush or not.
Could the UNSC be painted using a dry brush highlight method to keep it really simple? Absolutely, and they’d probably look fine due to all of the sharp surfaces. I don’t recommend it however because I don’t think it brings out the best in the models. If you take Battlefleet Gothic as an example, dry brush works really well because the majority of the miniatures have a high density of undercutting by design. This makes the surfaces ideal for picking up the highlights from a dry brush. The UNSC ships by contrast feature a lot of shallow fine detailing in the flat surfaces which would lose some of its clarity if dry brushed. This is especially true with the iconic Marathon cruiser and flagship carrier. For that reason alone I opted to use a faux-zenith lighting approach which uses three colours for the base; a mid, shadow and highlight to define the direction of the light. These are in order Cold Grey, Intermediate Blue and Wolf Grey. Although the base colour is a neutral grey I didn’t want the entire ship looking flat and neutral so chose shadow and highlights that have a cool blue bias.
Light and space
Obviously light sources are going to be problematic as soon as you consider the three-dimensions of space combat. A degree of abstract is required hence why many tabletop fleet games have an imaginary overhead light source. If you didn’t they would just look unappealing in my opinion.
For the UNSC I first of all airbrushed the entire ship cold grey as the base colour. The panels most in shadow, basically the underside and lower third on the Marathon got an additional coat of Intermediate Blue and the upper surfaces and upper third on the Marathon, Wolf Grey. In each case I tried to keep the boundary between the three areas clearly delineated using a strip of masking tape. It doesn’t need to be perfect, just enough to lay down a base for the proper shadows and highlights. Once done I gave the overall ship a wash mixed up of the base colour (cold grey) with a small amount of black wash and thinned with medium, water and a little flow enhancer. This was to help profile all the fine details and panel lines. The end effect is very subtle so don’t worry if things look flat still, at this stage all I am doing is blocking out the underlying zones of highlight, mid tone and shadow whilst bringing a little contrast between the sections and panel lines. You could increase the contrast further if desired by adding a little white to the wolf grey and black to the intermediate blue, but be careful as both will desaturate the colours.
This is where I increased the volume by placing the highlights on a few of the top most panels, particularly where I could get good contrast against one of the lower sections. I also added an edge highlight to help further define. Both were done in Ghost Grey which again had a blue bias. I avoided white for the highlights as it really gives you nowhere to go and wanted to save the brightest spots for the engines.
At this stage the ships were pretty much defined so all I wanted to do was to increase the volume of the shadows. I mixed a glaze of GW Dark Reaper which adds a really nice murky green tone with a tiny spot of black. I concentrated the glazes on the lower sections and pulling the pigment back into the deepest recesses particularly underneath where I had placed the highlights. Job done.
On such monochromatic ships, the only real splash of colour is the glow of the thrusters. This isn’t anywhere near as difficult to add as you might think. The first stage was to fully paint the insides in a desaturated blue. I used Electric Blue mixed with white roughly one part blue to three parts white. I used an airbrush so that I could get some additional overspray onto the back of the ship as well for additional effect, but it’s not essential. I then mixed a wash of watered down blue ink (Army Painter blue tone) which I used to flood the insides on the thrusters. Depending on how much you thin it down you may need to build up the effect in a couple of layers. For the highlights I painted the ends and inside detailing in pure white. This was then softened with a final blue ink wash to which I added a tip of rinse aid to help it flow into the deeper recesses. You can load up the brush and capillary action will draw it into all of the nice details inside the thrusters.
The only two remaining details to add we’re the vertical stripes down the flanks which I did in Celestra Grey and white and the lights/windows which were dots of GW Averland Sunset. Two coats of varnish and done.
One Marathon Class Heavy Cruiser and Paris class frigate squadron in arrow formation ready to take on the Covenant. Now to do the rest of the thirty odd frigates in a few batches!